I’m such a science nerd. Yesterday I signed on for a full-day tour from Quito, north, to the town of Otavalo. Otavalo has one of South America’s most famous indigenous craft markets (if not THE most famous) – and Saturday is the big day, when the market takes over the entire town. But what was it that interested me most on this tour? Of course – the stop in the Middle of the World (Mitad del Mundo) – The Equator!! A promised glimpse over the rim of the volcano Cuicocha into a crater lake was also a big draw. (Note: This blog post has bonus homework questions and mini-contest for Meteorology students!)
Ecuador has two equatorial monuments. The first is what they now call the ‘fake equator,’ about 300 meters from the geographical Equator. At the fake Equator, they have built a little cultural center/science museum. I’d go there if I had more time and energy – just to see their ‘Coriolis demonstration,’ where water goes down a drain spiraling in different directions on ‘opposite’ sides of the Equator. (Ok, MET students, bonus question: tell me what’s wrong with this exhibit – other than that it’s not actually on the Equator.)
The sundial at the REAL Equator was built in 2005, and it is a science geek’s dream destination (although, you can see it and be done with it in less than an hour). I ran around taking lots of pictures, and by the time we got back to the tour van, I was lecturing an elderly American lady (who tried to tell me that the fake Equator had a better exhibit) about the Coriolis force and why hurricanes can’t form on the Equator. She nodded politely but didn’t believe me until later in the day when she found out I was a college professor. Incidentally, later on, I ended up giving that same lecture, along with a lecture on global warming and what causes the ice age cycles, to the entire back section of the tour van.
The other aspect of this whole thing that I found amusing is that our guide made the claim that you weigh about 1 kg less at the Equator than you do everywhere else. She also stated that the best roses in the world are grown in Ecuador, because along the Equator, with less gravity, the roses can grow taller and straighter.
(Here’s the mini-contest: UNC Meteorology students, past and present, welcome to participate! Was my guide correct? How much less do you actually weigh at the Equator? Please leave your answer in the comments section. Don’t worry, I moderate comments and won’t post it if it’s wrong! First person to post the correct answer, clearly showing your work, will get a postcard – yes, snail mail – from Ecuador.)
The Mitad del Mundo was the first stop on our tour, and after that, I was pretty happy to go along with whatever was on the agenda. So, an hour and a half later, we rolled into Otavalo, and I had a stroll around the market.
I really don’t think I’ve ever been to a market so big. It was a bit surreal – strolling down cobblestone city streets among the chaos. Lots of women were elaborately adorned in traditional attire. I felt like a giant as they passed by – many of them no taller than my rib cage. I was truly amazed by wizened elderly women carrying giant sacks of textiles and food on their backs.
I strolled past many stalls with what looked like hand-woven materials – and many others with cheap shoes, key-chains, and toys made in India or China, ‘North Face’ jacket knock-offs, and even a booth with ‘Hollister’ t-shirts. The most surreal aspect of walking down a sidewalk past all these booths was that on the other side of the sidewalk, you find stores with modern wares – kitchen supplies, washing machines, stereos blasting 80’s dance music.
My favorite part of the market, however, was the food aisle! Veggies and fruits of all shapes and sizes, colorful beans, flours and spices, cooked pork with the head still attached, and lots of meals being prepared on an open fire, with lots of fresh ingredients. Made me hungry – but I wasn’t ready to test my delicate North American stomach.
Our next stop made up for the craziness of the market. Lago Cuicocha (which means ‘Lake of the Guinea Pigs’) sits at about 11,000 feet in volcanic crater. The rim of the crater, which forms the sides of the lake are so steep that it’s difficult for vegetation to grow there. There are two steep lava dome islands that occupy the center of the lake. I think this volcano last erupted ~3000 years ago – which makes it an ‘old’ Ecuadorian volcano, especially compared to Pinchincha, which hovers over Quito and last erupted in 1999, blanketing the city in 15 cm of ash.
I know you’re wondering: what did I buy at Otavalo? While my fellow tourists returned to the van laden in plastic bags full of goodies, I had: a banana, for a snack. I actually spent my money for the day at Mitad del Mundo, on some fancy brochures with details on the sun dial and a very cool little poster of the world from an ‘Equatorian’ perspective. Of course, this will hang in my office when I get home. Yes, I am such a nerd.